Weathering uncertainty: traditional knowledge for climate change assessment and adaptation

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Nakashima, Douglas J., Galloway McLean, Kirsty, Thulstrup, Hans D., Castillo, Ameyali Ramos, and Rubis, Jennifer

When considering climate change, indigenous peoples and marginalized populations warrant particular attention. Impacts on their territories and communities are anticipated to be both early and severe due to their location in vulnerable environments, including small islands, high-altitude zones, desert margins and the circumpolar Arctic. Indeed, climate change poses a direct threat to many indigenous societies due to their continuing reliance upon resource-based livelihoods. Heightened exposure to negative impacts, however, is not the only reason for specific attention and concern. As many indigenous societies are socially and culturally distinct from mainstream society, decisions, policies and actions undertaken by the majority, even if well-intended, may prove inadequate, ill-adapted, and even inappropriate. There is therefore a need to understand the specific vulnerabilities, concerns, adaptation capacities and longer-term aspirations of indigenous peoples and marginalized communities throughout the world. Indigenous and traditional knowledge contribute to this broader understanding.

This report provides an overview of the published scientific literature (primarily peer-reviewed, but also grey) relating to the contribution of traditional/indigenous knowledge to our understanding of global climate change: observations, impacts and opportunities for adaptation. It focuses in particular on post-AR4 literature and also includes inputs from the international expert meeting ‘Indigenous Peoples, Marginalized Populations and Climate Change: Vulnerability, Adaptation and Traditional Knowledge’, held from 19–21 July 2011 in Mexico City, Mexico.


Nakashima, D. J., K. Galloway McLean, H. D. Thulstrup, A. R. Castillo, and J. Rubis. 2012. Weathering uncertainty: traditional knowledge for climate change assessment and adaptation. United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization and United Nations University, Paris and Darwin.